A question from a parent I met today over lunch:

“I keep hearing these great stories about how kids graduate and skip a year of college because they’ve taken so many college credits in high school. Should my child be taking college-level courses in high school? And, if so, how can Marshall help?”

We can, but it is essential to understand the terms of the conversation.

The first thing to remember is a lesson from your grandparents: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

College acceptances today do not follow a formula, and each child/family needs to review their situation individually. This is why we put such an emphasis on a low student-to-counselor ratio. Just because a high school says a course is “college level” does not mean the college will give you credit for that course.

When it comes to taking college-level coursework in high school, there are three options in Minnesota:

  • Colleges in The School (CITS) programs
  • Post Secondary Education Options (PSEO)
  • Advanced Placement courses (AP)

Each offers a very different approach to college-level coursework, and it is important students and families understand the differences.

CITS courses are college-approved courses taught in high schools by high school teachers. Most are based on curriculum developed at Fond du Lac Community College.

PSEO courses are college courses taught on college campuses by college professor. The costs are paid by the state, and any GPA-eligible student can participate. In Duluth, UMD and St. Scholastica participate in the program.

AP courses are nationally-normed and scored courses that are taught by trained high school teachers and recognized by colleges nationally as the equivalent of first-year college courses.

For very deliberate reasons, Marshall offers only two of the these three options: PSEO and AP.

As our Director of College Counseling, Katie Voller-Berdan tells families: “The CITS courses at local public schools are taken from curriculum developed by local 2-year colleges. The colleges Marshall students are applying to recognize this and tend not to award students credit.”

As Glenn Sharfman, vice president and dean for academic affairs at Manchester College in Indiana, wrote in a recent article for Inside Higher Ed: “Colleges feel better about accepting credits when students demonstrate mastery of material on a recognized exam.”

Therefore, our focus at Marshall is to offer college-approved courses that are more likely to be recognized by the types of colleges our students want to attend. This year, Marshall students are taking 12 AP courses, more than offered at any other school in the city:

  • Calculus AB
  • Calculus BC
  • Language and Literature
  • Language and Composition
  • US History
  • World History
  • Government and Politics
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • German
  • French
  • Spanish

Of course, there are circumstances when PSEO or CITS makes sense. if a student plans on later matriculating to UMD or St. Scholastica, then taking a PSEO from them could be a great way to get a credit out of the way or get some exposure to the campus. If a student has exhausted or topped out of the curriculum at their high school, then they may need to go the PSEO route to get to the next level in a certain subject. That is when we tend to recommend PSEO to Marshall students, although the time issues in traveling to a local university to attend one course can make a mess of a student’s schedule. Our preference, whenever possible, is to keep everything on our campus through AP courses.

Many parents are rightly intrigued by the opportunity to get some college credit out of the way in HS, at a much cheaper price. And it is fabulous that students in the state of Minnesota have so many options for higher-level coursework. However, to avoid any nasty surprises during the college admissions process, it is important to align the type of “college” course a student takes in HS with the type of college they want to attend when the are finished with HS.